Churning through life with four under four


We were blessed with four sons under the age of four, the last being a set of twins twenty-one months younger than our middle child. Four in diapers; four car seats; four child seats at the table, four snowsuits, a million little socks and six loads of laundry a day… 

I nursed all of the boys,  so I was well indoctrinated by the time our little groundhogs arrived on February 2nd. Our middle of the night routine was a well-orchestrated dance: The first baby would awaken and Daddy retrieved him for the first suckle. When he was satisfied, #2 was awakened and presented to Mama. Daddy took # 1 for diaper change while the second nursed. Baby #1 would be returned to me so I could “top him off” while the second received clean dipes. He was then returned for seconds, while #1 was tucked back in. Then I would convey the second back to the crib shared by both, for a nice uninterrupted 30 minutes of sleep. This, two or three times a night, interspersed with lost pacifiers and the occasional “bad dream” or other upset on behalf of the others.

Our plan for the day seemed simple enough: be out of the house by 9:30.

A new day began at 6 am with my being nudged out, if not shoved right over the edge of the bed by the five squirming attendants. The two big boys had migrated in the wee hours, and Mama had been too lazy to return babies to bed after the last feeding.


We hit the floor running: Pee. Nurse babies. Line the boys up on the living room rug to change diapers assembly-line fashion (thankfully one was in daytime undies!) Nurse and change diapers again, for invariably it was necessary after breastfeeding. Get breakfast for the two elder sibs. Change diapers. Get the boys dressed. Nurse. Change clothes that had been spit up upon. Nurse. Naptime for babies. Sesame Street (Thank God!!). Get laundry in, clean up cereal that has been flung all over the kitchen, make a plan for the day, pee and get dressed. Snack time for little boys. Babies awaken and nurse. Change diapers. Get snowsuits on. Take snowsuits off to poop in the toilet. Time for lunch. Naptime. Laundry time. Snack time. Change diapers. Snowsuits on. Ah… out the door at last! And it’s only 4:30 pm! The realization that I never even got my teeth or hair brushed! Round and round we’d go churning through our days.

The older boys wore disposable diapers, the babies wore cloth. Groceries for our family then were $75 per week without disposables, $95 with. So the wee ones would not get into the stinky mess, we had an arrangement next to the changing table. Hanging from a macrame’ plant hanger was the basket into which the disposable diapers were pitched. Under that was the high backed stool holding the diaper pail for cloth diapers. There were times when the disposables were heaped to precarious avalanche state, and the cover on the pail below sat on top of a mound surpassing its rim by 8 inches – Quite the conversation piece!

As they grew, the babies never even had the experience of solids during their first nine months. Their sole means of nutrition was breast milk, for it was much easier to just “whip it out” so to speak than to try to prepare conventional meals for everyone single-handedly. They nursed simultaneously, crossed over one another in my lap. Once when the phone rang I got up with the two latched on and sat them on the counter while I took the call and they continued, uninterrupted.

When they were big enough, the twins sat in seats hooked over the edge of the counter, kicking their feet frantically and waving their little arms as though ready to take flight. Phil sat in his high chair, more often than not nodding off into his lunch. Henry, in his big boy chair, was becoming devious, trading Phillip for the “good stuff” when he thought I wasn’t looking.

When they had all graduated to peanut butter sandwiches, they each exerted their individuality thus: one wanted peanut butter and jelly with crust; one peanut butter and jelly, without crust; one peanut butter, no jelly, no crust; one jelly with crust, no peanut butter. “Do you want your banana big or cut up? “Big. No, cut. Ummm, big. No, I want it cut” Are you sure?” “Yes,” I cut the banana. “Whaahhh! I want it big!”


Our middle child was of the age that ideally, we would have ditched the pacifier, but you can’t do that to a one and a half year old that has just been dethroned. Alas, by the time he was three, the only time that thing was not in his mouth was when it was resting on his lip as he cried 20 times each night until someone came to stick it back where it belonged.     

In frantic desperation one night before our weekly garbage pickup, I decided enough is enough and threw the slimy snot covered thing into the trash- as it happened, the basket containing the disposable diapers. As I was changing my youngest (by one hour and four minutes!), I started thinking maybe I should talk with # 2 son about this.

Then a wondrous thought occurred to me: Maybe the poop from the diaper… I peeked under the stinker I had just deposited. Nope, no such luck. I reached into the basket, opened the shit filled sack, swiped the pacifier through the mess, crying “Eeew! Phillip! Look what happened to your pacifier!” “Eww! We better throw it away!” “Oh! Good idea Phil.” We stood at the window waving bye-bye to “paci” as the garbage truck traveled down the street.

We owned a Honda wagovan, only seating five at the time of birth, so bolted two of the car seats into the cargo area facing backward. My husband devised a “Ben watcher” (a round, convex mirror on the driver’s sun visor so he could keep an eye on Baby Ben sitting behind him when he drove without a copilot. 

One  Christmas Eve the babies were in the way back, packed in amongst the groceries and I looked over my shoulder, aghast to find Jordan waving an empty egg carton about! “Stop the car! Stop the car!” 
When you live in that type of mayhem, so much of it is a blur. But there are those life-altering moments that remain clearly etched in one’s memory. 

One morning as my husband and I were awakening, we delighted in the babies jabbering away in the room next to us. Then silence. “What are they doing?” Suddenly, THUMP! “hehe hehe!”, THUMP!!! “hehe hehe!” as they learned to free themselves from the captivity of their cribs.

Things were about to get crazy!- RDW, 11-12-11




Leaving the Gender Gap Behind

I believe that the women in my generation have faced the biggest challenge in coming to terms with the legacy of the submissive role that previous generations of women in our family and society have accepted.

I was bound and determined not to fall into the subservience that had been so prevalent. I knew in my early twenties that should I have children, I would go back to work rather than lead the life of drudgery that my mother had for so many years. 

Given that we are on this earth to learn certain lessons, I am blessed with four sons, clearly making one of my life objectives learning to reconcile my role as a woman in today’s world, and teaching my sons to fit into a role more in line with what I hope is to become the norm. I am inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” 
As it turned out, I did stay at home with my children. Lucky for me I like snakes and frogs and spiders. I was not able to deter their interest in weapons or to squelch the tendency to employ anything in hand (sticks, rocks, legos, blocks) as a gun. I learned to accept the broken glass and furniture and holes in the wall created by four very robust males who insist upon wrestling and tumbling about, even to this day. Wishing not to transfer my fears to them, I was able to learn to squelch my terror as they jumped off 40-foot cliffs into the river, climbed 60-foot trees, created dangerous contraptions and explosions and all of the other foolhardy things that boys do. I am still repulsed by the rude and disgusting habits that seem inborn: hawking in the sink, belching, flatulence, whizzing all over the bathroom and leaving the seat up…
In an effort to discourage the idea that women are here to serve them, I have insisted upon their self-sufficiency, teaching them at a young age how to prepare their own lunch, do dishes, dust, and vacuum, set the table, do laundry, and be responsible for their own room.
Dinner table conversations revolve around topics that are generally of much greater interest to the men in my family than me, and I so often feel left out as they discuss their “manly” movie interests, and mathematical, scientific and computer pursuits. Sometimes I find myself obsessing over the woulda, coulda, shoulda. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to develop the interests that they have. If I made more of an attempt to get involved in reading and watching science fiction, learning to like the music that sounds like noise to me, participated in more of their activities, I wouldn’t feel like such an outsider in this family.
I refrained from doing more of these things in my endeavors to develop my own identity and place in the world. And while I was doing this for myself, I felt as though I was doing it for my mother, and her mother as well.

Our Parenting Roots


Often we develop our manner of raising children by way of the example set by our own parents, whether that be to mimic their style, decide to take a different approach altogether, or something in between. In identifying our personal and family values, and how these came to be shaped by our ancestry and upbringing, we become better prepared to make conscious decisions about our own approach to parenting.

You can learn so much about how you have come to be the person you are, by considering the basis for your parents’ child-rearing practices. What was going on in the world in the way of current events, media (music, television, movies), and the economy, when they were young and as you were growing up? What social issues were being addressed? What was their religious upbringing and how has that affected your spirituality? What interests and ways of life have you acquired as a result of your upbringing (Sports? Politics? Environment? Social action? Career goals? Dietary habits? Communication style? Discipline? Behavioral expectations?)
      From whence I come
  • I come from stock of the Depression era, with resultant parental frugality; and my childhood sense of deprivation in the midst of the well-off and ritzy suburb of Boston in which I spent my first 13 years.
  • I come from the fifties… Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best sense of strong family values and clear division of labor, martinis and cigarettes, the middle of five children- three sisters and a brother
  • I come from the sixties… Flower children, the Vietnam War, peace mongers, Kennedy assassinations, Martin Luther King and civil rights;
  • I come from a safe neighborhood, unstructured time, freedom to play and roam, to time fraught with stranger anxiety and relative isolation.
  • I come from the seventies… the Woman’s Movement and Environmental Awareness.
  • I come from Christian upbringing, Sunday School, parental pillars of the church, church fairs, pageants, youth group, Sunday School, potential seminarian…to become a “rejector” of Religion and an avid spiritualist with deep faith in a power greater than myself.
  • I come from generations of book lovers and wordsmiths; trips to the library and bookstores a weekly occurrence. Love of good books and writing is in our genes!
  • I come from a house filled with classical music; show tunes, Mitch Miller and Benny Goodman. I am a wannabe musician, former Student of the clarinet. Today I connect and attend to other cultures through world music…
  • My mother was a leader, a mover and shaker in the Girl Scouts as I grew up, hence my active involvement in scouts throughout childhood. That and family camping initiated my love and concern for nature and the environment.
  • I come from the anti-bureaucrat (my father)… resisting becoming controlled by state regulation and refusing to be categorized and limited by guidelines deemed necessary by the powers that be…
  • I come from a long line of alcoholics: family secrets, roles, and messages concerning worth and potential. I come from Violation by presumed friends of family and upstanding community members.  

My Father
Dad was the working man, breadwinner, fearsome, fun-loving Boss who fixed things, painted and wallpapered, did the yard work, shoveled us out after a blizzard, and took us to the museum, the library, the park, historic sites, sailing, camping, and comet chasing at 3 am.
He had a strong work ethic and high expectations. He was strict, and we were afraid of him. He was bull-headed and “never wrong”.
Having grown up during the Great Depression, he was a frugal man, always pinching pennies, and insisting upon a clean plate at dinnertime (“take all you want but eat all you take”). Never one to waste anything that may be of use someday, he recycled long before recycling was in vogue.
Ever the consummate engineer, he did his own plumbing and electrical repairs amidst oil can, baby food jars filled with old screws and nuts and bolts, TV and radio tube tester heaped around him on the dining table. I have a vivid recollection of him sitting on the edge of the bathtub shaking the commode in his lap and cursing as he tried to remove the Ban deodorant bottle that had been flushed down the toilet and lodged in the trap.
He considered the impact of his employment situation on our family, uprooting us from what he considered to be a pretentious community and the unreasonable demands of his work in a large corporation. We relocated to a small town in Maine which offered easy access to what he considered to be the finer things in life.
For you see, my father truly was a Renaissance Man. He was a wildlife enthusiast and taught me to be a grateful witness of natural beauty through all of my senses. A loyal patron of the arts, he sought opportunities to expose us to the humanities, passing along his deep appreciation of good music and art.
Despite the overwhelming financial obligations of starting a business partnership, raising his family, providing medical care for a desperately ill child, and putting his daughters through college, he persevered day after day. This is an amazing feat that is so often taken for granted. But his business sense was extraordinary and after many years of diligently paying off his debt, my father entered into a position of financial security.
For all of his hard work and the pressures of day to day life, Dad had a tremendous sense of humor and took great pleasure in shocking people. He loved a good practical joke and was so much like a big kid in so many ways.
Between his loathing for bureaucracy and disdain for taxes, he made a practice of giving much of his wealth to organizations he deemed worthy by virtue of their impact on his community and the world.
His curiosity and enthusiasm for life carried him through to the end of his days. When he was 75, he learned the art of Chinese cooking. At the age of 80, Dad started piano lessons and taught weather classes to senior citizens. His death in 2004 left a gaping void in the presence he held in the lives of so many.
My Mother
I once came across my mother’s old girl scout book (c.1929), an explicit account of how each room in the house should be cleaned, beds made, table set, how to do laundry, how to cook, how to take care of minor injuries, and most importantly, how to catch and keep a husband.
As I grew up, there was a strict division of labor within our household. Mom stayed home with the five children, taught us right from wrong (deferring to Dad as necessary), took care of us when we were sick and made a full course sit- down dinner seven days a week. She cleaned the house (Monday: bathroom and kitchen; Tuesday: dust and vacuum downstairs; Wednesday: dust and vacuum upstairs; Thursday: wash and hang laundry; Friday: iron (no permanent press back then!); Saturday: change beds, go shopping for groceries and make Saturday/Sunday dinners. She was given a meager weekly allowance, which she carefully eked out to cover groceries, dry cleaning, housekeeping necessities, and cigarettes. She had to ask for extra money to get her hair cut. Discretionary funds were out of the question. It was her job to care for her sick, incontinent and demented father-in-law who despised her. In fact, the huge house she was responsible for was not her house but her in-laws, complete with hideous décor and furnishings, which she abhorred and was powerless to alter in any way.

At age 45, Mom was uprooted as she approached menopause, and hit the bottle, had to contend with a gravely ill daughter and a marriage in which she was miserable. It was not until she was 54 that she got “out of the house” and into the workforce. The transformation in her sense of self was astounding to behold. Her resolve for independence and self-expression allowed her to break out of the subservient role that had defined her and the women in our family for so many generations.
My mother had a determination and gift for turning the most earth-shattering experiences to the advantage of others. She was highly respected as a leader and mentor for youth and young adults, inspiring me and other women following in her footsteps to create a better world for ourselves and our children. She was a mother not only to her own children but to others in the absence of their mothers, teaching me that motherhood must extend beyond our own children to any child in need of mother spirit.
My parents shared a strong sense of community and dedicated themselves to the betterment of society through their involvement with our church and its youth, the Girl Scouts, and the local hospital. They never hesitated to give someone a helping hand, a ride to church or the Synagog or doctor, making dinner or repairs for an elderly neighbor, footing the electric bill for someone in danger of having the power turned off.
While my parents had a difficult and at times stormy union, they remained committed to their 48-year marriage, joking that it cost too much to divorce, until my mother’s death of lung cancer in 1996.

Once you have a clear picture of where you have come from and how you have come to be the person you are, you can begin to identify the values you wish to carry into the future, as well as those better left behind.

This is a fantastic opportunity to set, or reset, the compass for future generations. As you determine how your own background will influence your parenting style, you must realize that you will be the primary example for your children. You are their most significant role model and they are likely to follow your lead:

  • If you show respect for them and the other people in your lives, they will learn to be respectful.
  • If you are environmentally conscious, spend time in nature, and feed the birds, they will learn to appreciate and care for the natural world.
  • If your children see that you find great pleasure in books, they are more likely to become avid readers themselves.

On the other hand:

  •  If there is swearing in their presence at home, they will curse in public.
    •  Physical and verbal abuse encourages bullying.


  • Children raised in a racist or sexist home find it difficult to see others as equals.


Ruminations on Being a Parent

Twenty-five years ago I stood on the rocky coast of Maine, lost in the rhythm of waves crashing along the shoreline and contemplating the imminent birth of my first child.

I could not have imagined that this day would arrive in the blink of a cosmic eye.

My pregnancy had been filled with thrilling, scary, idealistic anticipation; the awe of being in love with the child unfolding within my body; the fantasy of fulfilling my dream of motherhood; the satisfaction of believing that all of my experience to date had helped to prepare me to be a “good mother”.

There is nothing more magical than giving birth to a first child. Those first nights gazing into your newborn’s very soul, feeling that you are the only ones on the planet while the rest of your world slumbers and the constellations circle the night sky.

Having children gave me an opportunity to reconstruct my own childhood experience; to learn forgiveness and humility as I realized and learned to live with the imperfections in my parents and in myself; the priceless gift of once again seeing the world through the eyes of a child; the opportunity to experience that sweet innocence minus the judgment, distorted perceptions and cynicism that are the inevitable by-products of growing up.

As the years have passed, every moment has been a whole rainbow of feelings; the immensity of the task of being a parent playing itself out day after day after day, with all of its joy and fear and protectiveness and inadequacy and guilt and triumph and frustration and satisfaction and doubt and resentment and pride and enormous indescribable Love.

In being a mother, I have found myself constantly defining and redefining who I am, and who I hope to be, as an individual, a life partner, a parent; persevering through tough times that, had I not had my children to consider, may have turned out very differently.

Parenthood has forced me to come to terms with my own fears and shortcomings; to open myself up to the reality that I am not my children, and they are not me; to learn the arts of negotiation and compromise and letting go.

The miracle continues to blossom forth every day before my very eyes- that tiny bundle of wonder and joy and utter vulnerability evolving into the kind, sensitive, confident, funny, smart, talented men that my children have come to be a quarter of a century later.

Motherhood has enriched my life and taught me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and I am so very grateful for the experience. My sons are, without a doubt, my greatest teachers. RDW (2-24-11)


Part II: Laying in Wait


Bed rest. Weeks of confinement and being sequestered in my bedroom with admonitions to stay put, the only exception being to use the bathroom. 

It is a mixed blessing really- an opportunity to send long handwritten letters to everyone in my address book. It is a chance to read and sleep, be waited upon, and to complete needlework and quilt projects (the Michael Hague Christmas stocking I’ve been stitching for Henry since he was 8 months old; the rainbow Trip Around the World quilts for Henry’s and Phillip’s beds).

The precise therapy that every frazzled young mother yearns for- and it totally sucks. 

Imagine the pending holidays: gifts to make and acquire and get off in a timely manner, tree to get up and decorated, cookies to be made, parties to attend, carols to sing, and being helpless to participate in any of it. 

Friends are enlisted to assist round the clock with Phillip, age 1 ½, and Henry, 3 ½ years old. Thankfully they are able to shower those boys (and me!) with love and attention enough to get us all through this difficult time. 

Donna and Cindy, the dear wonderful women tending to my household (mothering my children, doing laundry, dishes, shopping, changing diapers, cleaning, running errands, cooking, … and getting paid to do it!) while I am bedridden sympathize with my predicament, and chide me to enjoy being queen for a day or however long it takes these babies to safely enter the world. They help me to keep the bright side to all of this in view, serve me nutritious lunches too big to cram into the limited space afforded by two rapidly growing beings within, and marvel with me as the babies perform their gymnastics beneath skin stretched so taught it threatens to split wide open. 

The boys are so sweet marching up and down the stairs to visit, or share lunch, or read stories (The Little Engine That Could, Chicken Soup With Rice, Good Night Moon, The Cat in the Hat- over and over again until every word of these treasured favorites is remembered yet, almost 20 years later). Their little table and chairs have been brought into the bedroom along with various projects for us to complete for grandparents and Daddy. We make miles of paper chains, paint sweatshirts and pictures to be framed, and make wrapping paper. 

But it breaks my heart to see them go back over the stairs to carry on with the life that I am no longer a part of. 

The Boston Pops Christmas music drifts up the stairs, as do Henry and Phillip’s little voices laced with excitement over the arrival of the pine-scented Christmas tree. The aromas: warm cookies straight from the oven, and hot chocolate, and popcorn to be strung with cranberries, seem to reach from the holiday magic of my early childhood and once again I am filled with self-pity. It is so not fair that I am to miss such an important and historic moment in the early lives of my children. 

I can’t stand it a moment longer and creep down the stairs to at least observe and supervise the tree decorating. You know how it goes- no one else can get it just right. All previous lessons in letting go are forgotten for the moment. (Naughty Ruth- bad, bad girl!) 
That visit in the real world satisfies me for a few days until a dear friend brings a promising recruit for the family practice my husband belongs to. 

Can you just come downstairs for a few minutes, she so needs to meet you.” 

Oh, I guess a couple of minutes won’t hurt.” (Bad girl, Ruth). 

Furlough #3: The boys are planning to watch the Bugs Bunny Christmas special.  “Come on down,” pleads my husband. 

Oh, I don’t want to watch that, I’ll wait until Charlie Brown or The Grinch or Rudolph are on.” 

You should come down now, it will be good for you.” 

But I really don’t want to watch that.” 


Oh, all right!!” 
As I make my way down the stairs, I look out the window to the left to see a car in the driveway. 

Huh, someone is here.” 

I turn my head to the right to find the living room lit with the warm glow of dozens of candles and filled with about 20 women! My heart leaps into my throat. We’re having a Blessing Way! 

A Blessing Way is an alternative to a baby shower, the focus deeply spiritual, as opposed to the commercial bent of a typical baby shower, which neglects the sacredness of the birth process. Women gather to bestow upon me loving care and energy to help guide me through the birth. This involves massage, washing of feet, brushing of hair, singing, and prayers for a hale and hearty birth experience. 

The initial self-consciousness gives way to the restoration of my resolve and gives me hope to endure the last difficult days of a long and tumultuous pregnancy. 

Given my life circumstances and my incapacity for being told what to do, it is rather amazing that there are only four breeches to my sentence of bed rest, the last of which is our traditional ooh and ah ride to check out the Christmas lights around town. On Christmas Eve we all bundled into the car wrapped in blankets, Mickey Mouse and Alvin and the Chipmunks providing festive music to the occasion. The cold night air and the magical twinkle of colored lights in my first excursion into the world outside of the hospital or our house since the day after Thanksgiving fills me with great joy and that sense of magic that fills my children with awe. 

Finally, on the day after Christmas, I have reached term regarding the safe delivery of those little dickens’ that have totally dictated my life for this last month. I’m free!


I re-enter the real world to carry on with my life to the stares and audible gasps that the spectacle of my enormous belly evokes from passers-by. Each day the stretch marks get angrier and I fear that the babies’ gymnastics will push beyond the limits of the elasticity of my skin.
When I go to the grocery store, I knock over a display of oranges because I have not compensated for the space required by the three of us. My arms are barely long enough to reach the cart.
When I go to use public facilities, I am no longer able to close the door. And when we have dinner, I set the plate on my belly because I can’t reach it otherwise.
The due date for the babies passes. Day after day I long to reclaim my body, but since they were refused entrance into the world the first time, they are quite content to stay put.
 I teeter on the creaking stepladder painting the dining room. The boys and I build a giant snowman in the front yard, providing quite the spectacle for our neighbors as I awkwardly push the snowballs about with my fingertips. When we go sledding, my sled plows through the powder to skim bare the earth; it takes three people to help me up from the ground.
The babies won’t budge.
Drastic times call for drastic measures. On the sly I consult with a friend who is a midwife, seeking her advice in inducing labor. She suggests taking Castor oil. My partner in crime, Cindy, beloved caregiver and friend, makes the necessary purchase and makes a rather disgusting concoction for me to drink. No-go. Cleans everything but the babies out of my poor beleaguered body.
Dear Cindy seeks out Black Cohosh Tea, a remedy used by midwives for inducing labor, certainly not available in this little berg. She brews another nasty potion, which I readily gag down- to no apparent avail. They stay put.


It is not until 4:15 AM two weeks after their due date that I am startled awake by a monstrous and searing contraction. If there is a Richter scale for contractions, this had to have been a 9.5, and increasing my 3 cm dilation to a gaping 9 cm.

I awaken my husband in alarm, only to have him roll over, mumbling to wake him when my labor is serious. This is the point, of course, that is famous in the annals of birthing, cursing superlatives flying out of the poor victim of delivery and the birthing experience in an attack of the person responsible for this agonizing and miserable predicament.

I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, stark naked, huge belly spilling over the edge, waiting for the contraction to end, only to realize that it is continuous. Amidst the indescribable agony, I so wish that Tony could have a taste of it. (Oh to be handed that little bundle of joy with none of the immense torture, and taking half the credit to boot).

Then Baby Phillip wanders into my bedroom in his yellow sleeper, huge brown eyes, and pacifier; the stark contrast between the intense pain of transition and the soft warm little hand that takes mine is so dramatic that the moment will forever be precious in my mind. 

I am finally coaxed into the car as our bleary-eyed neighbor stumbles in to care for the boys while I bring their siblings into the world.

As we cross Main Street en route to the hospital, one thing is certainly clear. I want drugs! I have proven twice that I can give birth with no medication, and I’ll be damned if I have anything left to prove. I want drugs! And oh my God you better step on it!

We arrive to the maternity ward to the great dismay of the nurses on duty. We have forgotten to call the hospital to let them know we are coming. As I undress and am begging for drugs, I am aware of the poor woman in the other bed, calmly hanging out with her family and having to listen to me freak out.

There is a mad scramble to prepare for the double birth. My family doctor and his wife (my coach), the attending OB-GYN, our pediatrician friend, Susan, who is planning to be on hand in case of complications, are still in oblivious slumber.

The nurse who checks me says to my doctor husband, “I don’t know how you feel about this, but you might want to check her. I think she’s fully dilated!” –And to me, “Don’t push!! No, you can’t have drugs it’s too late for that now!”

Rush to the delivery room with frantic admonitions not to push. Cold metal sterility seems blinding to me. Doctor and coach rush into the room, and with my friend’s gentle grasp of my hand, I calm instantly.

The magic words “You can push now” vaguely reach my ears before “Baby A” practically shoots across the room in one push. It feels so, so, so, so good!! And I think to myself, this is how it’s done! 

It’s a boy!

Just after Baby A arrives, the missing cast members: obstetrician, pediatrician, anesthesiologist, additional nurses trickle in. Given that my husband is well known throughout the hospital, word has rapidly spread far and wide, and bets are being made as to time of birth and gender of the babies.

As with the births of my older sons, the crushing contractions cease and all is well with the world.

“Would you like to hold your baby?”

“No I can’t do that right now. (i.e, Are you crazyI’ll crush the poor kid trying to get this other one out!)

Everyone relaxes and we wait. And wait. And wait. Susan has taken charge of photography, having missed the opportunity to record Baby A’s entrance into this world. My husband takes the baby and I greet him, but yet refuse to welcome him into my arms for fear of doing him bodily damage.

I’m frustrated that everyone is taking this all so lightly, chatting and joking, and having a grand time. I need to concentrate.

Now, I had imagined that the second would arrive in mere minutes- totally disregarding my friend Laura’s comment that it could be an hour between births. But nothing happens.

“You aren’t feeling any contractions?”

“No.” The monitor shows no contractions.

“O.K. Ruth, we’re going to give you a Pitocin drip to see if we can get this show on the road.” And I’m thinking, oh God I don’t want to do this again.

The contractions start slowly but quickly pick up in frequency and intensity. Baby B is breech. Doctor jokes, “Don’t quote me but I think it’s a boy!”

By this time, I am watching everything that is going on from up in the corner of the room. The anesthesiologist says, ” We’re going to put you to sleep for a moment” and before I have time to object I’m awake again being introduced to my fourth son! He is one hour and four minutes younger than his brother, something he will never live down.

I eagerly reach for both squirming little prunes, albeit the most lovely of fruit. 

And I Thank God I won’t have to contend with adolescent daughters!
The Beginning…


Part I: Letting Go

Living in a small town and lacking the anonymity I desire, I send my friend Rita for the pregnancy test. Damn. The instructions clearly state to wait until morning’s first pee. A long restless night filled with dread ensues.

Okay. Why do they have to make these damn packages so hard to get open? Hold the tip in the urine stream, wait three minutes: one bar not pregnant, two bars pregnant. Shit, it’s only been about thirty seconds but I decide to peek anyway.

Oh God no, please no, it said it would take three minutes. Wait a minute. The directions say to hold the tip down and I was holding it up. It must be wrong…

But I am pregnant. Again.
I walk through my life in a daze. When I look in the mirror, I see a pale and despondent woman with dark circles and greasy hair looking back. My body moves about like a sack of wet sand. I have all I can do managing the two little children I have. How will I ever deal with further compounding the situation? My desperation sweeps me away as I long to flee from this life.


While visiting friends, I lay on the dock, feeling the growing lump within pressing against the hot pungent and splintering wood, as I will the energy of the sun to nurture and love my unborn child in a way that I feel unprepared to do.
After confiding my misgivings to a dear friend, I worry about his admonitions regarding the emotional havoc wreaked upon the fetus of an unwanted child of his acquaintance, and the grown child’s struggles with chemical addiction and criminal behavior…
Four days later I go for an ultrasound. I don’t know when I had my last period; I always know when I last bled. My mother used to mark the calendar with a big R on the day I was due, for the entire world to see. But for years it has been my secret- only I know when to expect the red tide. Always.
Except this once.
At least they are not checking for twins as they had the two previous pregnancies. After the first rush at the possibility of twins, I had known the second was a false alarm as well. This time the ultrasound is performed to “check dates”.
Preparation for an ultrasound requires drinking water way beyond the capacity of the human bladder, creating extreme discomfort as the pressure becomes so great as to crush the other organs.
My sole thought and focus become not to embarrass myself by creating a lake in the middle of the waiting room. Of course, this is the day they are running behind. “Oh, you can pee, just not more than the three ounces it takes to fill this cup.” Right. I know better than to open the floodgates and use this opportunity for Kegels- or rather one long continuous kegel, as I will the technician to come for me.
Finally, as I lay on the frigid table, the tech squeezes the warm sticky goo onto my belly, chuckling as she sets the transducer onto my abdomen. As I look over my shoulder to view the screen, I gasp at the sight of two separate entities floating before my eyes, thinking in that split second, “at least it won’t be a ten-pounder” (the first two children being 8, then 9 pounds), and “we need a new washer and dryer!”  
“Oh my God, that’s TWINS, isn’t it? Are those twins?!? How did that happen?” (There is no history of twins in the family- but later a doctor friend says “sit down and I’ll explain it to you!”)
Wow, twins! That puts a new light on things. Preparations must be made. Call the contractor. Knockdown the kitchen wall. Rethink nursery school, after having made the decision that our children are already getting the experience they need to start kindergarten. Shoot, we’ll probably home school them anyway. Hm. Better rethink that too.
The tech asks, as though speaking in slow motion into a barrel, “Shall we call your husband for a look, he’s in the building.” My better half is a doctor in the family practice next door and has been called into the hospital for an emergency. “No, I’ll tell him… On second thought…”
He bounces in with a grin on his face. “Is there a baby in there?” He looks at the monitor, his face draining of color, chin dropping to the floor. “Wait a minute, that’s not …”, he murmurs in disbelief amid gales of laughter.
By the time I go for blood work a few moments later, everyone in the hospital is abuzz with the news. When he wanders, dazed, back to the office, his nurse asks him about the delay at the hospital. “Twins…” “You delivered twins?!” “No… we’re going to have twins…” he replies in a dreamy monotone. 
I delight in breaking the news to friends and family.
“Hey, Dad-you’ll never guess what.”
“You’re going to have twins, heh heh…”
“What?! You’re going to have twins?? You’re joking right?”
My neighbor looks at the photo trying like the dickens to yank those two images into one, for surely she is seeing double. Her husband jams his fist into his mouth, bug-eyed.  
My sister, upon picking me up at the airport almost slams into the car in front of us at the tollbooth as she and her daughter in their disbelief whip their heads around to confirm that this is a joke.
I have been suddenly plucked from the lower depths of depression as in the coming months I am showered with attention, and preparations are made.
We make plans for having the kitchen remodeled so that the house we purchased with two children in mind will seem more accommodating. We shop for another crib, purchase bunk beds, move Phillip in with his brother Henry. The days fly by and suddenly the holidays are upon us.
Then, the day after Thanksgiving, in my 32ndweek, after an interminable day of shopping, my exhaustion keeps me in the car while my husband goes back to look for Henry’s jacket. As I wait, world a-shine with city lights on wet pavement, the thought crosses my mind that this is exactly the way I felt the night before my firstborn arrived after a day of climbing on the rocky shore of Maine. 
Upon arrival home, I make a beeline for the bathroom and gasp in horror at my bloody underwear. A panicked trip to the maternity ward ensues. Bustling medical professionals hook me up to monitors, I.V., ID bracelet, all talking at once, asking numerous questions to which I am unable to respond, my fear rendering me speechless.
Labor has started and unless they are able to forestall it, the babies are in great jeopardy. Friends flock to my bedside, so very well-intentioned, and so very unwelcome, in my mind. I desperately need to stay focused on willing those babies to stay put. As the medication that is being administered to halt the labor sets in, I feel myself slipping off the deep end. I’m jittery, tearful, getting a bit paranoid, having hot flashes, unable to sleep at all, and completely miserable.
The following evening it is decided that I will be transferred to a hospital more capable of dealing with preemies. Those well-wishers are still streaming in to lend support, as I am tearfully loaded onto the stretcher, worried sick about what the attendants must think of this huge whale they need to be lifting into the ambulance. As I am being transported through the corridor, a crazy woman in a room we pass is screaming obscenities, adding to the sense of surreality.
As I speed (both literally and figuratively, for the medication has that effect) through the minutes in the ambulance, tubes swinging, vitals watched closely, I am reminded of hellish bygone days when trips to the hospital in this fashion were commonplace.
No time is wasted getting me admitted into the metropolitan hospital. Amid the commotion, I hear the doctor speak of difficulties resulting from under-developed lungs, blah, blah, blah.
Sleeplessness and virtual starvation have taken their toll as food is withheld in case of the necessity for anesthesia. I am at my wit’s end as the medication given me to stop the labor wreaks havoc through its side effects.
I hear myself whining that I am hungry and have had nothing to eat since the previous day’s lunch. The inconsiderate resident attending me refuses to allow me sustenance and then has the gall in the same breath to offer my husband pizza that has just been delivered to the nurse’s station. I feel the sparks fly from my eyes as through clenched teeth I admonish that thoughtless twerp not to be so unbelievably insensitive- “Don’t you ever dare do that again! At least have the decency to be more discrete when you are being such an insensitive JERK!”
I have so desperately missed the boys, having abandoned them with no notice, and am suffering pangs of guilt and breach of loyalty as I give the second two my full attention. I spend my days weighing outcomes. If the babies come now, they’ll be attached to tubes, monitors, breathing machines for god knows how long, but at least I can travel back and forth and continue to be a mother to the two sons I have. 
On the other hand, if it is necessary for me to remain here for several weeks, the babies will get off to a better start which would be better in the long run. But I may not see the boys for days at a time and what will happen if they see it as abandonment and being replaced.
But if this…. that. And if that…thus… Round and round until my already-fragile psyche feels ready to spin out of this orbit.
My husband brings the boys for a visit, but EEEWWW- the crusty goo of the worst pinkeye I have ever seen repels me. I can’t get pinkeye! What if the babies are born today? If they contaminate me, then I will not be able to provide the mother nurturance the babies will require. If I reject my sons because they are less than sterile in the face of tiny newborn fragility, will I be choosing my next born over my first two? And what kind of choice is that? If I reject these two, the others will have a better start, but won’t I undo all that I have worked so hard to achieve in the way of providing a sense of absolute security? And if I welcome them with open arms as I so long to do because I have yearned for their presence; aren’t I putting the others in jeopardy?
The boys come and go with their father in their slimy oblivion, with stories of eating in the cafeteria, Phil’s huge encrusted pink-brown eyes bobbing above the bulky blue and teal jacket, pacifier glued to his face with green snot, Henry in his blue and gray jacket and overalls, towhead, silly jabber and efforts to do bodily damage to his little brother under the guise of affection. Can’t their father see that they should not be here in this condition? What is wrong with him? He is a doctor for crying out loud!
They leave and I watch them climb over snow banks, plowing through every slushy puddle they encounter, and weep bitterly over my circumstances. Why is it that once again Daddy gets to have all the fun, bringing his sons on this adventure to the cafeteria, and oh, by the way, we should go say hello to Mama while we’re here…
Round and round and round I go, weighing all the possibilities, willing this or that to happen with all of my mind and soul, only to come to the sudden realization that all of my projections are completely pointless. I have absolutely no say in the matter and whatever happens, is going to happen regardless of bargaining and pleading and wishful thinking.
And within minutes, the contractions stop.
– RDW 1-30-07

We all make mistakes

All too often in our struggles to maintain control over a situation, we lose perspective. There are times when what starts out to be a minor annoyance gets blown up out of proportion as a result of the exhaustion and frustration of our day. We have all been in a situation where emotions run so high that they no longer reflect the issue at hand. Something else in our lives (a previous grudge, anger with a spouse, stress at work, financial worries) has impeded our ability respond appropriately.
As a result of hanging on to the residue of hurt and resentment from an earlier interaction, we make mistakes. We respond inappropriately, or misjudge a situation and make false accusations.
Once when I was 8 years old, my mother misunderstood what I said and was convinced that I had used a curse word. She slapped me across the face and forbade me to attend a street fair that we had looked forward to for months, sending me instead to spend the day in my room.
She would not listen to my side of the story, and the punishment so far exceeded the crime. This did not teach me not to swear, but that the world is an unfair place and if I’m going to be punished for nothing, maybe I should do naughty things so at least I will deserve the punishment.
When we are completely frazzled at the end of a long day, we are more likely to respond inappropriately as we reach the end of our rope. We tend to forget that the little people in our lives are only 3 or 6 years old, and that their lack of response is not necessarily a conscious ploy to test or disobey.
Once after nagging my son to pick up his toys, to no avail, I stormed into the play room and said, “You want to play in a mess? I’ll give you a mess!”, and proceeded to dump every last toy in the room onto the floor.
I was so embarrassed and ashamed of myself! On some level I had realized things were spiraling beyond the limits of rationality, but didn’t have the wherewithal to take appropriate action or let go of it. After a few minutes I went back to apologize, and we put the toys away together.
Parenting is such an important and difficult job. Usually, the only training we receive is the example set by our own parents. There is no mandatory preparation for dealing with the multitude of situations that arise. We have to make on the spot decisions, and at times we simply react without thinking something through. Even the best and most well-intentioned of parents sometimes act in ways that are harmful to a child. We all make mistakes.
Once when the kids were small it became too quiet in the other room, and upon further investigation I discovered my son and the little girl from down the street playing “doctor”. I knew what they were doing, but rather than telling them that this was not okay and letting it go at that, I proceeded to insist that they tell me what they were doing. A deeply humiliated five-year-old ran home in tears, telling her mother that she was never coming back to our house, ever again!
Thankfully, I realized my mistake and sent the child a note of apology, after which she continued to run through the house with all the other neighborhood kids as if they were part of the family. Years later she told me how much that note meant to her at the time.
Don’t think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize. An honest apology when something like this happens serves to make amends, allows children to see that we all make mistakes, and makes it easier to let go of the guilt we are all too willing as parents to heap upon ourselves. -RDW (7-5-10)

Tricks of the trade

When raising children, we need to learn how to mold their behavior in a way that is desirable and socially acceptable. This is no easy task. Wanting to be your child’s friend seems more appealing than being the one to set limits and enforce consequences. But kids want to be given guidelines and to know what to expect. A child without boundaries cannot develop self control, and lives in a world of chaos. This is not a pleasant place to be.
Daily routine is critical, as are consistency in expectations, and consequences to undesirable behavior, Make your expectations perfectly clear and follow through with consequences even if it would be easier to let things slide. Raising “good” kids is hard work. 
Make sure your child’s day involves fresh air and plenty of exercise.  A long walk or trip to the playground, weather permitting; or dancing, pretending to be every kind of animal you can think of, running up and down the stairs, will serve you well. There are numerous videos leading children in various forms of exercise.  This will bode well for nap time too!
Give up the expectation of keeping an immaculate house, although teaching children to pick up toys as they are finished with them and before getting something else out is win-win for everyone: more room to play and easier clean-up at the end of the day.
It is not necessary or desirable to keep children occupied every minute, because then they don’t learn to entertain themselves.

There are certain things that work really well in changing the level and type of energy in the house. Getting everyone to take three deep breaths rarely fails. Calming music helps keep the level of craziness down. We used to have an aquarium that served as time out. Putting the kids (and/or myself!) in front of the fish tank worked like magic in calming all of us down; and you can have great conversations while watching the fish!

Read to your kids every day. Not only will you teach your children a love of reading, it is a way to take a break from the madness.
Rotate the toys. If you keep some of the toys in the attic and bring them down while putting others away for a time, it’s like getting a whole bunch of new things to play with. Even when the kids are developmentally beyond certain toys, they are certain to find other uses for them. When a command to pick up their toys elicits minimal response from little ones, singing the Clean-up Song often helps to move things along. (I often think it is their way of getting me to stop singing).
Most useful in getting a child to do what needs to be done is to make a game of it. Challenging the kids to do what is required before you count to 20 is a most effective ploy for getting them to comply. I used to count all the time when my kids were little: “See if you can go to the bathroom before I count to 25; go get your shoes before I count to 10… It almost always works.
Note: Many years later, I asked my 19 year old son to go bring something up from downstairs. Upon his refusal, I said “see if you can do it before I count to 10.” First he rolled his eyes and said “no!” “1…2…3….4.. you better hurry!” He started to get antsy as this look of confusion came over his face before he took off, returning just as I got to 10! It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Always remember, as tough as things get, they always always get better, and your head will spin at how quickly the time goes by.

Another look at defining a parent’s role

Over the years I have noticed a definite shift in the current approach to parenting. It seems to me that many, many parents are more concerned with being a child’s friend than being the one who sets limits and enforces discipline.
In the more extreme cases, there is no attempt to correct inappropriate behavior. These parents believe that it is best to allow kids to fully express themselves in the way that the child sees fit, and that by interfering with his actions, they are somehow limiting the capacity for him to be who he is.
As a result these kids walk all over their parents, becoming the literal ruler of the home-(”You can’t tell me what to do-I’ll come when I’m good and ready”). These children tend to show little consideration for the rights and property of others, steamrolling their way through public venues and other people’s homes. Meanwhile the parents are helpless to intervene, if not oblivious to the upheaval their kids are creating.  
Once when I was at a gathering with my young children, a little boy came up to my three- year-old son and bashed him in the side of the head with a rock. Mama Bear (myself in protective mode) snatched that kid up, set him on the steps and admonished, “Don’t you ever do that again! That hurts!!” He immediately got up and ran crying over to his father who responded in a sing song voice, “oh, you shouldn’t do that…”
At the other end of the continuum is the over protective, controlling parent who doesn’t let their child out of their sight, demands perfection, or constantly steps in on the child’s behalf, thereby not allowing him a chance to work things out for himself or learn from his mistakes.
Neither one of these approaches is fair to the child.
In order for a person to become a well-adjusted and productive member of society, he needs to be allowed to discover who he is, and how to navigate societal expectations. Among other things, this involves learning self discipline and manners, how to work out peaceful resolutions to conflict, and being allowed to identify one’s own talents and passions.
Children are not able to do this without guidance in terms of defining what behaviors are unacceptable (e.g., being disrespectful, hurting others, stealing, lying, breaking things), and providing suitable consequences for misbehavior.
Don’t be afraid to be firm; but keep in mind that use of force only teaches a child to be angry and fearful, and that power is what counts.
Consequences for misbehavior should make sense to a child:
      • Time out to collect himself when he loses self-control (a simple rule of thumb is one minute per year of age);
      • Loss of privileges if responsibilities have not been fulfilled;
      • Restitution or replacement of property that has been damaged;
      • Returning a stolen object in person.
A child with clear limits knows where he stands. Being inconsistent confuses him and makes him try harder to get away with everything that he can. If he expects a certain outcome each time he misbehaves in this manner, he learns that it is not okay to act this way, and if he does, there are consequences.
Before you give an ultimatum, ask yourself whether you plan to carry out this action, or is this an empty threat- one that you have no intention of following through with. Empty threats (e.g., “If you won’t put your toys away, you won’t have any toys!” or “If you don’t come now, I’m leaving you here!”) are a desperate attempt to regain control over a situation, and children will challenge you to see who is actually in control.
If you give a warning that you intend to follow through on, make sure that it is an appropriate consequence to the misbehavior, and that it is fair to everyone involved. Don’t punish yourself and other family members for one child’s misbehavior (“If you don’t load the dishwasher right now we are not going to the movies”)
Parents need to come to an agreement regarding discipline, otherwise children gain the upper hand by playing one parent off of the other. Above all, strive to be consistent. Make clear your expectations and follow through with appropriate disciplinary measures as necessary. RDW (7-5-10)